November 6, 2018

Crop-Livestock-Forestry Rotations gaining Popularity in Brazil

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Researchers from Embrapa in Brazil have been promoting the use of integrated crops-livestock-forest rotation systems (ILPF) for several decades in Brazil and their work is now paying off. Over the past decade, studies have shown that 10 million hectares have been put into this rotation system. In 2015/16, it was estimated that 11.5 million hectares were in the ILPF rotation system.

The crop-forest rotation system is normally introduced into degraded pastures where the carrying capacity is low, the soil fertility is low, and there are high rates of soil erosion. In this system, grain crops are grown for two or three years as the soil fertility is improved with agricultural limestone and fertilizers. These crops are planted between rows of tree species adapted to the region. These species are planted together for the first crop.

As the soil fertility improves from the third harvest on, the grain crops are combined with forages (with different species from the original degraded pasture) to form pastures and introduce animals, establishing the dynamics of sequential agroforestry-pasture systems.

In the cerrado regions of Brazil, the main grain crops used in this system are soybeans, corn, cotton, sorghum, beans, rice, and sunflowers. The main forage species are Brachiaria (80%) species of Panicum (10%), and others (10%). The major tree species are eucalyptus (80%), teak, Australian cedar and mahogany (15%), and others (5%). The animal species/breeds are beef cattle (50%), dairy cattle (30%), and sheep and goats (20%).

The main reason why ranchers are adopting the ILPF system is for recuperation of their degraded pastures, establishing new pastures, increasing income, and reducing financial risks. The main reasons why farmers would adopt an ILPF system would be to increase incomes and reduce financial risks. Approximately 45% of the current ILPF rotation systems are located in three states, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, and Rio Grande do Sul.

ILPF systems can significantly enhance socioeconomic and environmental sustainability in rural properties. From the farmer's point of view, the system offers economic benefits and a lower cost of production. It offers more efficient use of fertilizers, reduced need for agrochemicals, and a breakdown in the life cycles of pests, diseases and weeds. It is a feasible solution for the recovery of degraded areas.

It also offers many environmental benefits including more efficient use of land, carbon sequestering, increased organic matter in the soil, reduced erosion, improved microclimate, and improved animal health. One of its biggest benefits is the reduced pressure to clear and open new areas for agricultural production.